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Old December 16th, 2002, 07:10 AM   #1
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Filming from a war zone

Hi everyone!

I'd like to start saying thanks to everyone on this forum for sharing your knowledge. I've been hanging out here for almost a year now, but haven't had to ask one single question yet. The reason is that all the answers I've been looking for is already on the board.

But now I've got some questions that I haven't been able to find any answers to.

What should I think about while filming in a war zone? I'll be going to Palestine for two weeks over christmas and new year. It will be with a combined peace activist/documentary filming/research for coming up documentary-trip. I wonder if anyone has got any experience in filming under such harsh conditions? I will be living in palestinian families with little or no possibility to control the light.

The equipment I will be using is my XL1s with the 16x zoom and my 3x zoom, Sennheiser K6/ME66 module, Canon MA-100 and a cheap monopod. I'll maybe get my hands on a wireless mike kit.

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Old December 16th, 2002, 07:33 AM   #2
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The equipment you have sounds like you'll gather some quality video and sound.

I have no experience in a war zone (Unless you consider New York City, which can be...), however, your experience sounds like it will be an exciting and cautious one. I wish you the absolute best with your endeavors. I am sure it will be rewarding.

Keep us posted...


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Old December 16th, 2002, 08:14 AM   #3
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Well. Haven't had any hands on experience with filiming in a war zone (didn't have a cam when i went to LA. :)

But i guess the same rule applies as when you go to areas with high criminality and potential violence.

* Do not show openly that you are filming or carrying expensive equipment.

* If possible, try to aquire some sort of press identification. This will help a lot to survive a hostile encounter with military.

* Whenever filming outside, make sure you hide your tapes somewhere on you (stash beneath your clothes, etc) after each filmed tape. Because if you happen to film something that someone do not want, they will grab your camera first and "confiscate" it and most likely any bags and such.

* A camera, held at shoulderheight in a distance might look like you are firing a weapon.

* Some places require special permits to be allowed to film. If you try to film it without those permits, remember that any guards will not be on their best behaviour to you.

And IF the proverbial shit would hit the fan.. remember that if you can see them, a bullet can see you. So keep your head down and get back to us with a good documentary.

Good luck,
Henrik "HuBBa" Bengtsson, Imaginara Fotographia,
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Old December 16th, 2002, 08:29 AM   #4
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Read Books, there are plenty of them.

The danger of filming in war zone is only surpassed by being married (or holding out too long in getting married!)

Probably the most important advice is to listen to veterans from theatres you may potentially be operating in. Last year was an abysimal year to be war correspondent and even your friends may rat you out to some terrorist.

I believe that most of correspondents operate with guards. These guards are generally hired from the local militias. These guys can navigate the checkpoints. Just remember they do not have any allegiance to you and if the situation changes, they can be just as dangerous as any enemy.

I remember watching one story where a BBC correspondent was interviewing the Afghanis. In walks Bin Laden. Bin Laden starts talking to the guards saying, 'why don't you just kill these westerners?'

Whereupon the guards refused, but shortly later hustled these guys out of camp. Again, a very risky, but interesting business.
Nathan Gifford
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Old December 16th, 2002, 08:41 AM   #5
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I was in the Philippines shortly after the revolution working for the Int'l Herald Tribune (still photographer) I had their stickers all over the Land Cruiser. They saved my *ss when I was stopped by the Military (or guerillas, I don't really know). An M-16 was stuck in the side of my head and I started pointing to the stickers and saying I was with the press. I was allowed to continue on after a 10 minute discussion with their leader and a promise to send them my film.

Get the best local guide money can buy and tip him well. Locals will know the customs and what is safe and what is not. If he has a financial interest in you, he's more likely to want to keep you alive.

Like Henrik says, Keep your Head Down. Don't be a hero. Hero's come back in body bags 9 out of 10 times. I can think of 5 or 6 photojournalists that I knew back then, that aren't with us any more.

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Old December 16th, 2002, 09:27 AM   #6
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Combat survival

I've never filmed in a combat zone; but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Okay, seriously... I have been in combat and I've been wounded twice (platoon medic, Marines).

Take plenty of Imonium AD with you and keep some in your pocket at all times.

If someone yells, "Get down!," don't hesitate. Drop like a rock. In fact, if they yell anything, drop like a rock.
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Old December 16th, 2002, 09:28 AM   #7
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For some interesting essays on combat photography, see

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Old December 16th, 2002, 10:12 AM   #8
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Flack jacket, bullet proof vest, body armour. Whatever you want to call it, if there are people with guns get some.

The most lasting video I've ever seen from a war zone was on RealTV. A cameraman was just going through checkpoints when someone decided to open fire on his cab. The shot it (and him) to s#!t and the guy barely escaped with his life (and a bullet in his face). I suggest watching this clip before you go if you can find it. It may give you a better apprehension of how quickly something can go bad.
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Old December 16th, 2002, 08:19 PM   #9
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I almost forgot. Water. Always have a means of making safe water to drink. Get the pills or filters to make safe drinking water. Like Charles says, Imodium AD or a prescription strength version. Get all your shots (especially Hepatitis A, B, and C) and everyone on the trip should know their blood type. The blood supplies in most countries are not very safe. If someone gets hurt, (I don't mean shot, say a traffic accident) it best they get blood from someone in your group.

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Old December 16th, 2002, 09:43 PM   #10
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Having lived overseas many years and traveled often to places off the beaten path, I strongly agree with Jeff. Chances of catching Montezuma's revenge, Hep, or some other ailment are much higher than an attack. People laugh about Montezuma's revenge...but they're the ones who haven't experienced it. It'll absolutely put you to bed...and it isn't easy shooting a documentary from your bed...well, maybe one kind of documentary you could. ;)
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Old December 16th, 2002, 10:06 PM   #11
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war zone

If you are going to Israel print up shirts saying TV, put a ductaped TV large on your back and front before you go....truthfully if you go without a b,proof vest helmet and you are headed into the territories see if you can get one; can the group you are headed over for line you up with one?
Also come up with some version of a official looking press pass and have someone in the united states as a contact who will identify you as press if you are detained. I dont mean to rain on the parade but as a Int. Monitor rather than press which it sounds like you are planning to go youre in a bad spot. Best thing wait until after a neighborhood gets shot up to go there and ductape tv all over yourself ... its bad enough for press there the Israelis have shot more than one of than one of the Inter. Nat . peace movement crowd...also if you can hang near real press it affords some but not that great of protection.
The other thing to realize if you are detained make sure all citizenship papers are in order, and that you contact your Consul there beforehand when you are on the ground, you may end up on a terrorist watch list either way but you need that protections thus a double edged sword.
Seriously get a vest and helmet ductape tv large on it, mainly realize most Americans/Europeans not prepared for the fact that they are playing for keeps there. It could be fine but if you are there during a upsurge in violence and out in the streets you ARE A TARGET, also please realize the rules you are used to dont apply!!!! Dont argue when and if they (IDF) tell you to do something or not to..its not a time to argue its a time to obey...

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Old December 16th, 2002, 11:45 PM   #12
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In addition to the above advice. I agree with Michael, the rules you are used to no longer apply. In fact in terrorist type wars there often are no rules and the heirarchy is often blurred. There is no apparent logic in these religious / ethnic struggles and consequently any appeal made from a logical point will often fall on deaf ears.

Not having filmed in a war zone but having been in active military service during terrorist wars in Namibia and Zimbabwe my observations are as follows;

a) at the sight of the press there is often an overreaction On lot for example will play up for the camera shooting aimlessly into the air to make a point, the point has never been clear to me. The second lot will take the despot route and show you how powerfull they are by abusing you.

b) go with a local who understands the culture and language and who can interpret for you should you get into one of "those" situations.

c) without trying to sound dramatic it is a war zone, people shoot and people bomb, people get killed and blown up. Hollywood teaches us that one is able to run through a hail of bullets unharmed and if shot will always be a flesh wound in the arm. That is not real life, people die in war so take care. And unlike Bruce Willis fear becomes a real factor. Unless you are a real hero there is nothing like a couple of bullets flying around your face to get the juices going. If you feel unable to move because of being scared follow the guy in charge, he's been there.

d) just because you may not be involved in the struggle does not mean the struggle won't involve you.

e) carry the minimum amount of stuff, you never know when you might need to get the hell outta

e) you may not always be able to shoulder the camera from a safety aspect. Press record (deactivate the record indicator light) and keep the cam rolling with the zoom in full wide angle, hold the cam at your side and use your wrist to point in the rough direction of the action.

f) never express and opinion, positive or negative, about the situation. You may become embroiled in an argument that leads to conflict, one rarely fully understands the situation unless you live in the circumstance.

Good luck
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Old December 16th, 2002, 11:46 PM   #13
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Do it

<<<-- Originally posted by Dylan Couper : Flack jacket, bullet proof vest, body armour. Whatever you want to call it, if there are people with guns get some. ->>>

Christian Amanpour (sp?) of CNN wears one you should too.

I have a friend that went to Bosnia to document war crimes; if you're in a hot zone definately a bullet proof vest, pain killer, someone to watch your back, balls as big as King Kong!

<<<- if someone yells, "Get down!," don't hesitate. Drop like a rock. In fact, if they yell anything, drop like a rock. ->>>

learn to drop like a sack of bricks, or you may end up in a bag.

Grim..I know you'll get some great footage, it will be great to see what really goes on. Just get back okay!
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Old December 17th, 2002, 06:06 AM   #14
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hi ruben,

i have no tips for you, sorry, but i wish you all the best and that you get back healthy. although for me it would be very interesting to be a journalist in a war zone, too (perhaps my dream?)... but please, don't risk anything and act neutral - just follow the advises some people here gave, they seem to be very, very good! and don't go there unprepared for nearly every situation. hope you can get some good shots with your camera and we will get you back in one piece (no joke)! all the best,


ps: perhaps these links can help you a bit:
very good:
you can find more about this cameraman on (much articles and links) and
perhaps a good example how NOT to be equipped:

and don't hesitate to be afraid!
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Old December 17th, 2002, 06:40 AM   #15
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Does anyone know the name of the documentary-style film that was made that shows war-torn areas and fighting going on...and has a camera constantly in the left part of the frame? The whole thing looks like it's the POV of a photographer, but over the camera instead of through the viewfinder.

I've always wondered about it since some of the footage looks so authentic.
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